Early death in Victorian America was an experience few families escaped. The grieving heart was often susceptible to the superstitions of the day. With most deaths occurring at home, mirrors were draped in dark cloth so that no one could see their reflection for a time and be taken along with the recently departed. Clocks were stopped at the moment of death to ward off bad luck in the home. The “wake,” held in the family’s front parlor, invited guests to come through with offers of condolences as they viewed the body in its casket, a ritual that lasted two or three days in case the departed was only asleep and simply needed time to wake! Once viewings were taken to funeral homes, the family parlor was given a new name–“living room.”
Keeping a memory of the lost loved one was a ritual that brought some comfort. Many made wreaths from locks of hair taken before the body was laid to rest. Photographs of men, women, and even children in their casket were very common, and often displayed on a mantle or side table along with happier photographs of the family.
While many customs and superstitions surrounding the heartbreak of loss have faded into history, grief and loss are interwoven into our lives today, as real as ever. We have to say goodbye to many things, and yet a day is coming for those who have put their trust in Christ when He will wipe every tear from their eyes:
and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be death; there will no longer be sorrow and anguish, or crying, or pain; for the former order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4
There is joy in believing that we can place our hope in the One Who wrote the book and has told us the ending. Take heart, His promises are true!